Fault line Kashmir II:Why a pro-active policy design is imperative to mitigate disasters?

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Kashmir is no longer disaster proof. In fact, it is now disaster prone. Seismological shifts and environmental degradation and changes among other things render the vale open to disasters in the future. This evolving and emergent condition warrants policy and governance activism on part of the state to radically improve its hitherto non-existent disaster reduction, preparedness and mitigation mechanisms. A pro-active and alert stance is warranted here.

Our  point of departure in the preceding analysis about earthquakes and inadequate or barely existing disaster preparedness mechanisms was that adoption of a human security approach could be a prudent approach in dealing with future disasters. By the use of the phrase ‘future disasters’ , the implication is that natural disasters like earthquakes  will recur in Kashmir. As Dr. Afroz Shah posits in his analysis, ‘ Living with Earthquakes in Kashmir, ‘Kashmir Valley is a locus of active deformation that occurs primarily because the Indian plate collides with that of the Eurasian plate and the accumulated stress is released as earthquake. This process shall continue in future, unless there is a drastic change in the Indian plate trajectory, which seems unlikely in the human history.The current earthquake studies in Kashmir have shows strong geomorphic evidences of recent activity on faults in Kashmir’(

https://www.kashmirobserver.net/news/features/living-earthquakes-kashmir-0o).

This clearly suggests an unfortunate fact: we will not be rid of seismic events like earthquakes in the future. Given that there really is nothing that we can do to stem or stop these quakes, what can be done is to improve disaster preparedness state. The best approach, to repeat, would be the human security approach. Human security is an alternate understanding of security. The conventional and traditional of security has been state security with the state as the unit of analysis and focus. However, human security promotes a bottom-up, people-centered approach, emphasizing upon the needs, capacities and experiences of people. This has a searing resonance in Kashmir – a place where state security (with interstate connotations) has been the locus around which politics even the configuration of the state has been contingent upon. This has led to the securitization of almost all domains of life in Kashmir. A price has been exacted in the process; this price pertains to the deterioration of our environment, and environment related themes and processes. This has largely been unnoticed. The devastation caused by the 2014 earthquake is an eloquent but grim reminder of what is essentially a matter of both omission and commission by the state. Kashmir stood exposed to the wrath of nature and it also revealed our zero preparation in terms of disaster preparedness.

The 2015 earthquake was another grim reminder of this.

It also revealed that risks posed by natural disasters and also revealed the complex interactions among natural systems and social systems. By this, what is meant here is that while natural disasters like earthquakes accrue from geological changes over which we have no control but the imp-act is amplified by the configuration and organization of our social systems. An example may illustrate this relationship. Urbanization , for instance, is a process that happens due to demographic changes and human needs, among other things but flawed urbanization can lead to an urban system- poorly constructed, creaky infrastructure, poor transportation systems, flimsily designed urban architecture and sprawls –that is vulnerable to shocks like earthquakes. Srinagar city and the urban concatenations that it has thrown up may constitute a classic example of this. A poor and vulnerable urban system when subject to a shock like an intense earthquake can lead to massive devastation. But the impact of this potential shock can be minimized by a rejigg of policy and governance mechanisms which is premised on a holistic and both bottoms up and top down approaches to planning and mitigation approaches. Security is enhanced for all. Here human security becomes operative. If the state takes a human security approach then people become the referent for security. And when people become the referent for and of security then overall security and welfare is enhanced. This is the need of the hour in Kashmir especially at a time when uncertainty and complexity pervade Kashmir.

Earth quakes and perhaps even floods may hit Kashmir again. We are not being alarmist here. We are being prudent and our prudence is premised on extrapolation of trends from the past and some expert suggestions. No state(not even advanced and developed states) can prevent natural disasters like quakes but their impact can be mitigated. Till now , we have elaborated upon broad themes and ideas that pertain to disaster mitigation. The question is of specifics.  Dr. Afroz Shah- the geologis- posits that we require an Earthquake research facility in the state. Dr Afroz adds, ‘This can be best achieved if people from the state itself are involved in these investigations. This will however, require a state of art earthquake research facility in the valley, which should be devoted to earthquakes, their causes, hazards and remedies. They could also facilitate some earthquake related workshops, which will guide people and will make them understand the cause of earthquakes and what are the easily available remedies to quickly counter any immediate threat’.

The specific measures Dr. Afroz to bring this about are:

1. Opening of a well-equipped earthquake research centre in the valley

2. Training engineers to build earthquake resistant structures

3. Organizing workshops to propagate earthquake awareness among the public at large

4. Imposing a strict building code, as is done in countries like Japan.

These suggestions can best be instituted by a holistic and integrated policy approach that incorporates the voice of the people. iIn a state and context like Kashmir , it can best be done by securitizing peoples’ welfare and  well being. Or , in other words, privileging peoples’ security over other forms of security. Will this be forthcoming? The answer is a qualified yes. It can be instituted in Kashmir perhaps only when powers that be care about people. Whether they do or not is a million dollar question!

 

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